The bomb exploded in a blinding burst of green – white light. The fireball at its center grew into a towering pillar of flame. A huge, colored mushroom of poisonous cloud boiled high into the skv. It was November 1952. American scientists testing a new weapon had blasted a whole uninhabited island out of the Pacific Ocean. They had exploded the first hydrogen, or H-bomb.
The H-bomb was many times more destructive than the atomic, or A-bomb, that destroyed Hiroshima. Just one H-bomb had five times the destructive power of all the bombs dropped in five years of the Second World War. By 1953 the Russians, too, had made an I I-bomb. By 1957 so had the British. But only the Americans and the Russians could afford to go on making them. The fact that both the Umtcd States and the Soviet Union had H-bombs determined how they behaved towards one another for years to come.
That same November of 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower became President. American Presidents appoint a Secretary of State to take charge of the United States’ dealings with foreign countries. Eisenhower gave this job tojohn Foster Dulles.
Dulles was a man of strong moral convictions. He genuinely believed that communism was evil. Truman, Dulles claimed, had not been tough enough with the Soviet Union. His own idea was for the United States to take the offensive. Instead of being content simply to contain communism ("a cringing policy of the fearful,” as he called it) the United States should set out to “liberate” nations already under communist rule. In a broadcast in 1953 he told the peoples of eastern Europe that they could trust the United States to help them.
In 1956 the people of Hungary put Dulles’s promise to the test. They had been under Soviet control since 1946. Now they rose in rebellion against their communist rulers. When Russian tanks rolled in to crush them they sent out desperate appeals for help. The help never came. Thousands of refugees fled across the Iron Curtain to safety in the neighboring country of Austria. “We can never believe the west again, ” one of them told a reporter.
Dulles failed to help the Hungarians because he knew’ that doing so would mean war with the Soviet Union, The devastation of nuclear war was, he decided, too high a price to pay for “rolling back” the Iron Curtain.
The w, av I Julies dealt with the Soviet Union in the later 1950s became known as “brinkmanship." This was because he seemed ready to take the United States to the brink – the edge-of war to contain communism. Dulles backed up his brinkmanship with threats of “massive retaliation.” If the United States or any of its allies were attacked anywhere, he warned, the Americans would strike back. If